I just returned from a trip to Israel for nine days and then on to Prague and Vienna returning to Dallas on the fifteenth day of our trip. I am a bit ashamed to admit that in the last 35 years this was the first time I went abroad that was not business related but just for the purpose of, well, a vacation. I went with my wife Micki and a small group of friends here in Dallas as well as extended family members that came from Mumbai and Shanghai. We were a rather eclectic international group looking forward to an interesting and educational time together.
There was some pre-trip trepidation related to world events and security issues but all were overcome rather quickly. We began with Lufthansa cancelling our flight the day before we were to leave due to a pilot’s strike. We were able to reschedule through London to Tel Aviv rather than Frankfurt Germany and we were on our way.
I have always wanted to go to Israel. Twice I have had trips cancelled due to world events and business issues. Once, many years ago, I was in Saudi Arabia and had a visa for Israel in my passport only to find that it drew extensive scrutiny in customs and considerable unwanted attention. But more on that topic later.
A life-changing experience
I expected to be thrilled visiting the birthplace of the three great monotheistic religions of the world and the God I have attempted to serve most of my adult life. I expected to be educated by the geo-political impact of Israel on the world stage and to physically see what the world press appears to dote on a nearly daily basis. There is a reason for this. The most ancient of issues and conflicts are being played out in this land and the future is being presaged in a way that almost everyone seems to recognize and find compelling and awing in its implications.
What I did not anticipate was a life-changing experience, but that, in fact, is what occurred. Spiritually, an excursion that took me to the birthplace of Jesus Christ at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem to Gethsemane and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, The Mount of Olives, Golgotha, The Dead Sea, a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee, Masada, the caves where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found, The Wailing Wall and the Dome of the Rock, on and on. Nine days was simply not enough. Everywhere you looked there was something more significant than time, and timeless in its impact. And then there was Yad Vashem, the holocaust museum in Jerusalem where one enters in awe and leaves speechless.
I could also write this blog simply as a culinary journey. Each meal was somehow extraordinarily special. From a lunch on the rooftop of the home of an Israeli couple above the Temple Mount to a barbecue overlooking the Valley of Elah where David slew Goliath and a dinner out in the Judean desert in a Bedouin tent. The food was exquisite and fresh. Hummus that was beyond anything I had ever experienced, and we enjoyed sublime olive oils and breads.
I realize that I want to write about all of these topics in detail. But alas I cannot in one offering. What I want to do is whet your appetite. I want everyone to consider putting Israel at the top of their bucket list by realizing that there is much to see in this world but that in Israel there is something truly different, amazing, spiritual and yes, in fact, supernatural going on. Being there feels like you are at the center of the world.
What the World Gets Wrong About the Middle East Conflict
We had a guide for our trip. His name is Aviad Amitai. Aviad is not your average guide. With a Masters in Israel Studies and Archeology and a passion for his country and its history, he simply made each day exhilarating. He helped us to feel as if we were living the history of this great land. He taught us from the Pentateuch and read both in Hebrew and English from both the Old and New Testaments as we traversed history in this timeless place.
Upon my return, as I was writing these words, the Secretary of State of the United States made an incredible statement that helped both clarify and focus what I was feeling about Israel. John Kerry compared Israel to an apartheid state shortly after Passover and on the anniversary of Holocaust Remembrance Day. It was an astounding and astonishing comment from a world leader, but it reflects what is happening today related to Israel. What the world is being taught about this small land and its people is upside down and backwards. This inversion of truth is being perpetrated on an astonishing scale, with most of the world complicit in the perversion.
Why? What is going on here? How can people be so blind with self-afflicted unawareness? John Kerry appears to join Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas in trying to get the United Nations to unilaterally declare a Palestinian state and suggest that Middle East peace is made impossible by a hardline Likud-led Israel. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the former president of Iran, has espoused faith that after a period of great calamity, the 12th Imam — a descendant of Muhammad — will return to convert all of humanity to Islam and eradicate those who refuse to follow. Ahmadinejad reportedly said that the end of history was only two or three years away. What do you suppose he was referring to? All of this amidst Holocaust denyers and a wave of anti-Semitism that is spreading across the world along with what appears to be a desire to eradicate Christianity in the Middle East as well.
Why It’s Insane to Blame Israelis for a Failed Peace Process
While I may appear to be an apologist for Israel I completely understand that Israel is flawed and has inscrutable issues of it’s own. But I would like to draw attention to the facts. Abbas insists on a right of return that would overrun Israel with millions of Arabs and turn the only Jewish state in the world to the 23rd Arab state. He goes on to say that he will not recognize a Jewish state.
Here is the history, as Charles Krauthammer delineates in his book “Things That Matter”:
- In 2000 at Camp David Prime Minister Ehud Barak offered Yasser Arafat a Palestinian State on the West Bank and Gaza and the division of Jerusalem. Arafat refused and within two weeks launched a war that killed a thousand Israelis.
- In 2001, Barak offered even more with Bill Clinton at the helm of the Taba Summit and Arafat walked away.
- In 2008 Prime Minister Ehud Olmert made the ultimate capitulation to Palestinian demands. He offered 100% of the West Bank and Palestinian statehood along with the division of Jerusalem and turning over holy places such as the Western Wall to an international body that included Jordan and Saudi Arabia. Once again the offer was refused.
Again, speaking to facts and history only, this completely contradicts the narrative of Israeli intransigence. What about this does the world press and world opinion find so difficult to understand? This land for peace option produced the Israel-Egypt peace treaty in 1979 and the Israel-Jordan peace treaty in 1994. Israel has offered the Palestinians land for peace three times since and been refused every time. Why? Because they want land without peace. The Arab world appears to want sovereignty with no reciprocal recognition of a Jewish state. Territorial disputes may be resolved, but existential conflicts are another matter entirely.
Holocaust’s Lesson is Critical
Israel is a small country with seven neighbors that all declare its very existence an affront to law, morality and religion and make its extinction national goals. Iran, Libya and Iraq conduct foreign policy directed at killing Israelis and destroying their state.
Lest you think these are issues that have no bearing on you or your family let me offer the following. Physicist Richard Feynman, who worked on the Manhattan Project, could not get the atomic bomb he helped created out of his mind. Feynman was convinced that man had finally invented something that he could not control and that would eventually destroy him.
We are now at the dawn of an era where extreme and fanatical religious ideology, completely undeterred by thoughts of self-preservation but with an atavistic love of blood and death and self-immolation in the name of God prevail. Is the end of history only a few years away, as Ahmadinejad declared?
How could a few men with knives overpower passengers and hijack planes that were flown into the World Trade Center towers? How could Jews allow themselves to be herded into gas chambers by a few people carrying machine guns? It may seem inconceivable today, but when victims cannot perceive the depths of the enemy’s evil, when the rules no longer apply, when cold-blooded evil is in command, decent people are often psychologically disarmed.
I asked every Israeli that I could why they felt as a people they have been persecuted throughout recorded history. I found none with a clear and definable answer. Some would simply say, “Schwer zu sein a yid” or it is tough to be a Jew. Yet, Israel remains after numerous diaspora the only nation on earth that inhabits the same land, bears the same name, and speaks the same language and worships the same God that it did 3,000 years ago. The only explanation that appears to answer that question is a Biblical answer, and it may have its roots in the Pentateuch, when Abraham and Sarah gave birth to Isaac and Ishmael. Isaac was born to Sarah and Ishmael born to Hagar, Sarah’s handmaid. Hagar and Ishmael were banished to the desert and that division between Isaac and Ishmael has had roots and residue that remain the most impactful in history.
Not since the Nazi rallies of the 1930’s has the world witnessed such a celebration of blood and evil. Can you imagine herding children into gas chambers? At Yad Vashem in Jerusalem you will see a memorial to 1.8 million of them. Can you get your mind around that? I mentioned earlier that we went on to Prague from Israel. When Hilter invaded Czechoslovakia in March of 1939 he announced that “Czechoslovakia has ceased to exist.” He began gathering artifacts to build a museum to the extinct Jewish race after the war. Today the cult of death that is radical Islam is intent on nothing less with an inclusion that embraces the western world and its culture. The suicide bomber at the Marine barracks in Beirut in 1983 smiled before he detonated the bomb. “Basamat al-farah,” it is called. The smile of joy.
Democracies Must Accept Risks, Use Freedom and Strength, to Outmaneuver Authoritarians
I suspect that most of the world would not describe that moment as “the smile of joy.” In 1991 Samuel Huntington posited the question, “if the American model no longer embodied strength and success, no longer seemed to be the winning model,” what would happen? As Bret Stephens recently pointed, in 1991, with the Cold War won, history appeared to have reached an end where democracy, capitalism, free trade and free speech were ascending and the day of the dictator was over.
A quarter-century later dictators are back. In Egypt, Hungary, Turkey, Russia, Iran, Syria and on and on, “The Third Wave” Huntington presaged is upon us. “As the memories of authoritarian failures fade, irritation with democratic failures is likely to increase.”
“A West that prefers debt-subsidized welfarism over economic growth will not offer much in the way of an attractive model for countries in a hurry to modernize. A West that consistently sacrifices efficiency on the altars of regulation, litigation and political consensus will lose the dynamism that makes the risk inherent in free societies seem worthwhile. A West that shrinks from maintaining global order because doing so is difficult or discomfiting will invite challenges from nimble adversaries willing to take geo-political gambles.”
And a West that has lost the will and imagination to face incredible evil and identify it for what it really is risks losing everything on the alter of pluralism and compromise.